Mental Illness and Reasons to Live – Free Ebook

When we are feeling well in our minds, we
hardly notice that we might be harbouring

in ourselves anything as formal or as dramatic-sounding
as ‘reasons to live.’ We simply assume

that we like life itself and that it must
be natural and inevitable to do so. And yet

a broad appetite for life is, on close inspection,
never simply that; our apparently general

buoyancy must covertly rest on a range of
specific elements that, while we may not bother

to itemise them, have their own and distinct
identities nevertheless.

It’s only when a crisis hits and our mood
starts to drop that we may for the first time

start to feel, with acute sorrow, what these
‘reasons to live’ might have been all

along; it’s as we lose our reasons that
we understand them with uncommon clarity.

We realise why we have for years bothered
to rise out of bed with energy and relative

good humour, put up with inconveniences, struggled
to get ourselves across to others and looked

forward to tomorrow – and wonder in dismay
how we will from now on ever have the will

and courage to continue.

Our engagement with life might have been bound
up with, the enjoyment of work or of reputation,

the companionship of a child or of a friend,
the agility of our bodies or the creativity

of our minds. Denied such advantages, we don’t
merely miss out on an aspect of life, the

whole of it loses its purpose. Secondary satisfactions

  • whether from a holiday or a book, a dinner

with old acquaintances or a hobby – cannot
compensate. The hedonic scaffolding of our

lives disintegrates. We may not actively try
to kill ourselves, but we can’t count as

quite alive either. We are going through the
motions; living corpses following a script

drained of meaning.

When we say that someone has fallen mentally
ill, what we are frequently pointing to is

the loss of long-established reasons to remain
alive. And so the task ahead is to make a

series of interventions, as what counts.

We may need

to forgive ourselves for a fearsome degree
of idiocy, give up on a need to feel exceptional,

surrender worldly ambitions and cease once
and for all to imagine that our minds could

be as logical or as reliable as we had hoped.
We may continue to live simply because every

human deserves understanding – and because
we are trying our best in the only way we

know how.

If there is any advantage to going through
a mental crisis of the worst kind, it is that

  • on the other side of it – we will have ended
    up choosing life rather than merely assuming

it to be the unremarkable norm. We, the ones
who have crawled back from the darkness, may

be disadvantaged in a hundred ways, but at
least we will have had to find, rather than

assumed or inherited, some reasons why we
are here. Every day we continue will be a

day earned back from death and our satisfactions
will be all the more more intense and our

gratitude more profound for having been consciously
arrived at.

The challenge from the present sickness can
be mapped out in its essential form: one day

to reach a small but robust and persuasive
list of reasons to continue

to be.

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